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Erik Hare

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Member Since: Mar, 2007

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Blogs by Erik Hare

Free at Last
2/29/2008 6:32:52 AM


This leap day is many things, including the 52nd birthday of Gioachino Rossini. It also means that Black History Month is one day longer this year. Iíve written on what Black History Month means to me if for no other reason than I think itís fair to demand this of paleo-maleos equally if itís ever gonna mean anything. This year, however, like all leap years, is an election. If anything, we spent more time in February making Black History than covering it.

Does Barack Obamaís election run mean that racism is dead? Is this finally the end of ďWhite PrivilegeĒ? Can we really join hands and sing ďThank God Almighty, we are Free at Last!Ē?

Iíll tackle these one at a time.

Racism is never going to be totally dead, no matter what happens. If just one person in 1,000 was a racist idiot, that means that in a nation of 300 million people we can expect at least 300,000 bigoted jerks. Thatís more than the population of Saint Paul. Thatís more than enough people to circulate crudely drawn cartoons that have been Xeroxed nearly to illegibility or pass along chain letters with over one hundred layers of quotation.

What we have going for us here is that everyone understands that you donít actually say certain things in public anymore. Itís been driven underground, but racism is with us forever, sadly. Hopefully it will not become stronger or more virulent while underground, like some kind of exotic flu that comes around once in a while. But the worst is over all the same. Someone like Obama has a chance because the hardcore racists are a small minority now.

White Privilege is another problem altogether. Most people as pale as I am donít understand the concept of White Privilege all that well, largely because they donít necessarily feel privileged. Someone whoís worked hard all their life for what little they have doesnít generally like to be called ďprivilegedĒ in the same way you might assign that label to a snotty trust-fund kid.

I explain the concept this way: imagine that youíre sitting on the back of a bus. Now picture a group of young black men who are just a bit rowdy getting on the bus. Are you scared? Worried? Letís go back a minute and have the same group of young men get on the bus, but make them white. Is your reaction any different?

I can tell you from my own experience that the immediate reaction is not what is different about these two thought experiments, but how you process them. White people often look at the white kids and recognize something from their own past or someone they know. They make excuses for behavior and their own visceral sense of fear for personal safety is less severe. What White Privilege often comes down to is the benefit of the doubt. That isnít a big deal with the bus example, but if itís allowed to boil and fester inside it can become something much worse. In more important situations, such as hiring someone for a job, the benefit of the doubt can be a very significant factor towards perpetuating racism in our society.

When people think long and hard about who they might vote for the benefit of the doubt doesnít seem to be as important. That may be enough to propel Obama to a win in November, but weíll have to see. Certainly, his call for change has made the color of his skin more of an advantage than a disadvantage, since he wears his outsider status on his face, emoting it more clearly than any honed words or careful cadence. Weíre in the middle of a very large test to see if this is true.

So can we all join hands and say, ďThank God Almighty, we are Free at Last!Ē? Itís a bit too early to tell. Iím game, but weíre in the middle of a process that will tell us if itís justified. I hope that White Privilege has indeed become nothing more than the benefit of the doubt and that when we really think about things we can get beyond it. Racism has never been an exercise of the head, but one of the guts, so we canít say that itís really enough in the long run. But it may be a good strong step on the long march forward. Thereís reason to hope, after all.


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Oh Zaperetta! the hilarious trilogy by Albert Russo

THE LITERARY REVIEW ď... Be warned, Zapinette's gems of insouciant wit tend to become infectious. This wise-child's deceptively worldly innocence takes the entire gamut ..  
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